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Site-seers

There are good websites, bad websites and websites that are almost impossible to avoid.

For teachers, especially those taking their pound;450-worth of New Opportunities Fund Information and Communication Technology training, the National Grid for Learning website (www.ngfl.gov.uk) isa prime example of the unavoidable.

The site, run by the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency (Becta) describes itself as "national focal point for learning on the Internet". And it is, just as Spaghetti Junction is the focal point of the Midlands motorway network. New arrivals face a bewildering array of exit options. If you resort to the "About" button you are taken to a spiel on Tony Blair's vision for the Grid, then to a long mission statement.

None of which matters, because once you're inside, the navigation system is fine. You can go straight to the schools page, where there's another list of links, to 10 education websites. This list is headed by the Department for Education and Employment's Standards Site (www.standards.dfee.gov.uk), a site of almost mystical sigificance in its role as thetranslator of Governmentpolicy into practical guidance for teachers.

At number two in this list is the NGfL's own home for teachers, the Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) at vtc.ngfl.gov.uk. Here there's a suggestion of hospitality: there's a reception area, a library and a meeting room. You half expect to find a virtual sauna for stressed newly qualified teachers, butno such luck. There is plenty of good, safe, approved information, but you do have to dig deep. For example, Becta's cheerful termlyliteracy magazine, Literacy Time, is buried in theprimary bit of the classroom resources area.

The NGfL offers ample opportunity for onlinediscussion, with separate forums for each curriculum subject area. Not surprisingly, the IT forumis the liveliest, while some subject areas seem toremain message-free for months on end. Sadly,one of the best featuresof the site - the "Becta Hot Seat" (debates with education luminaries) - also seems to be languishing, with no more online grillings since Tim Brighouse took the seatlast March.

Bill Hicks

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